5

I just saw a video that claims to show that the Republicans changed the rules so that nobody but the majority leader can call for a vote. The whole thing looks rather odd to me, as I would have expected that changes to the fundamental rules of the House to require far more than a simple majority.

Who sets the rules according to which the House operates and votes? And how far could the rules be changed by the majority party, where are the limits to their power to change the House rules?

  • -1 this question is poorly formed, it is difficult to tell what you are asking. It includes 2-3 separate questions. Vote to close. – user1873 Oct 13 '13 at 23:33
  • As noted here, Pete Sessions proposed the amendment, and is indeed part of the Rules Committee. – user1873 Oct 13 '13 at 23:49
  • My girlfriend agrees this question is based on a faulty premise - but we think the faulty part is that the house actually rules itself. – Affable Geek Oct 15 '13 at 1:24
6

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate rule themselves according to the rules they adopt - typically at the beginning of each session. Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution lays this out, stating:

Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members, and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; but a smaller Number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide.

Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.

Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy; and the Yeas and Nays of the Members of either House on any question shall, at the Desire of one fifth of those Present, be entered on the Journal.

Neither House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other Place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting

In a nutshell, this says that each chamber needs to adopt its own rules. And, at the beginning of each session, they do. The rules of the House for example, are here. The first order of business is to elect a speaker, the second is to adopt the rules. The rules are usually written by the majority (although with the knowledge that one day, the tables will be turned), and agreed to by the house. A simple majority is all that is required.

Again, the real check on these rules is mostly the axiom that "turnabout is fair play." In the Senate, for example, Filibusters are controversial, in that they allow the minority party to stop the will of the majority. And, when overplayed, you will often hear about the nuclear option - the proposal to overturn the filibuster. But there is one thing that keeps it from being approved - the knowledge that eventually the majority party will be in the minority some day. And when that happens, they don't want to lose that power.

Specifically in regards to who can call for a vote, however - that's long been the perogative of the Speaker. Indeed, by controlling the calendar, the Speaker has the ability to influence legislation far more than if he actually voted on it. Sam Rayburn (a Democrat Speaker in the 50s and 60s), in particular, held tight control over the calendar in order to ensure his priorities were the priorities of the House.

  • I was under the impression that the filibuster was a tool of the Senate. The house doesn't have filibusters, and has never had them. #Note, you don't claim that filibusters exist in the House, but since this question is about House rules, it gives the impression. – user1873 Oct 15 '13 at 3:08
  • I stand corrected, "In the United States House of Representatives, the filibuster (the right to unlimited debate) was used until 1842, when a permanent rule limiting the duration of debate was created." – user1873 Oct 15 '13 at 5:34
5

You question in based on a false premise.

"a video that claims to show that the Republicans changed the rules so that nobody but the majority leader can call for a vote." --Mad Scientist

The video makes no such claim. Here is the actual text of the bill H.R. 368

Resolved, That the House hereby (1) takes from the Speaker’s table the joint resolution (H.J. Res. 59) making continuing appropriations for fiscal year 2014, and for other purposes, with the House amendment to the Senate amendment thereto, (2) insists on its amendment, and (3) requests a conference with the Senate thereon.

SEC. 2. Any motion pursuant to clause 4 of rule XXII relating to House Joint Resolution 59 may be offered only by the Majority Leader or his designee.

The claim in the video is that this specific rule change was created with the intent of preventing a vote in the house on a "clean Continuing Resolution" bill from the Senate. The Rule in question is Rule XXII, clause 4 (pg 38):

RULE XXII HOUSE AND SENATE RELATIONS - Senate amendments

4.) When the stage of disagreement has been reached on a bill or resolution with House or Senate amendments, a motion to dispose of any amendment shall be privileged.

H.R. 368 is a special rule that makes it so nobody but the Majority Leader may propose a motion to dispose of any amendments specifically to H.J. Res. 59, it does not make it so in the general case.

The House of Representitives Committee on Rules writes the rules which govern operation and voting in the house.

The Committee on Rules is amongst the oldest standing committees in the House, having been first formally constituted on April 2, 1789. [...] The Rules Committee has two broad categories of jurisdiction: special orders for the consideration of legislation (known as “special rules” or “rules”) and original jurisdiction matters. A special rule provides the terms and conditions of debate on a measure or matter, consideration of which constitutes the bulk of the work of the Rules Committee.

The power of the Committee on Rules and the Majority party is virtually limitless (as noted on the same page linked above.

The Committee has the authority to do virtually anything during the course of consideration of a measure, including deeming it passed. The Committee can also include a self-executed amendment which could rewrite just parts of a bill, or the entire measure. In essence, so long as a majority of the House is willing to vote for a special rule, there is little that the Rules Committee cannot do.

  • 1
    Your answer appears to validate the premise, rather than show that it's false. You simply add a bit more (valid) detail to it. – user1530 Oct 14 '13 at 0:41
  • the OP states "nobody but the majority leader can call for a vote" you state "nobody but the majority leader can call for a vote on a particular bill". I see those to not be all that different. Your answer clarifies the premise with more detail--not invalidates it. (I think your answer is valid...just that the first sentence doesn't seem accurate given the answer) – user1530 Oct 14 '13 at 0:54
  • @DA., I disagree that those two things are the same. But, you are correct, I did not invalidate the OPs claim. (It is quite difficult to prove a negative.) Still, the OP didn't provide an actual quote to the claim made (because it doesn't exist). – user1873 Oct 14 '13 at 1:08
  • I upvoted, FWIW. I think it's a fine answer aside from the first line. – user1530 Oct 14 '13 at 14:44

You must log in to answer this question.